Good writing is insightful and informative. It may push readers to see the world differently, apply new data to a situation, or provide an opportunity to appreciate the tools and trends around them. It’s not formulaic, stale, or predictable — even if it is often reliably linear. But thanks to the rise in artificial intelligence platforms driving content creation, many see an emerging threat to communications, in agriculture and elsewhere.
Most professional journalists, bloggers, and public relations specialists got into ag comm to tell farmers’ stories and to share the innovations that are driving our industry forward. But where does the seismic arrival of ChatGPT in late 2022 (as well as similar AI software) factor in? Will it impact how we craft and disseminate farm and ranch content?
It most certainly will.
AI-powered text generators, often referred to as chatbots, create text faster than any human can. Their extensive vocabularies cobble together a variety of online source material in an effort to package a cohesive and data-driven presentation of whatever content you can request from it. If you want to know tips for early-season planting, just ask. Or you can seek out advice on choosing the best tires for your pickup truck.
And it’s prudent for our content creators — whether written or visual — to recognize this new technology. Barely a generation ago, print media was a dominant form of trusted information-sharing, yet too many companies were slow to recognize the shift to digital destruction and the rise of social networks and forum communities. Those who failed to embrace digital media — or who were woefully slow to do so — have hemorrhaged revenue, staff, and resources since the early 2000s.
The growth of artificial intelligence in content creation is going to hurt media that relies too heavily on non-differentiated content, those sources where news is rehashed without vetting, where press releases are repackaged days too late, and where storytelling lacks inspiration.
I edited a young writer’s article recently and initially couldn’t pinpoint why it struck me as so … flat. It wasn’t merely that the writing felt emotionless and detached and perhaps even too basic (to be sure, those are not good qualities of an article), but it’s that my editorially trained eye identified this writing as what I would expect from an AI content generator. The narrative of that piece had gotten lost in the timeline of facts. The world of journalism is more than simply stringing together a series of words, even if those words do make sense.
While anyone in agricultural communications should be cautious of AI content creators, we also need to recognize that we function as part of an industry that celebrates cutting-edge technology implemented in our machinery and planted in our rows. Our vigilance in this space should not automatically equate to exclusion. And while we have many years (probably even decades) before AI can craft an article with as much savvy and personality as a flesh-and-blood human, its not difficult to see the opportunity in these platforms.
“AI text generators are no different than the other contemporary tools in your box, like Google, Otter, Grammarly, and anything else that saves time and enables you to better serve your client and customers,” Jaclyn De Candio, owner of The Herdbook Ag Media, wrote in a blog post.
AI writing software can help lay the foundation for an article or pull in relevant background information. It can also push you as a writer forward if you find yourself stuck at a spot where you know something needs to be said but you’re lacking the inspiration to know exactly what it is that needs saying.
But, at least in its current iteration, AI writing is still majorly flawed, too often delivering incorrect and toxic information. “The data it uses to generate its responses are sourced from the internet, and folks online are plenty hostile,” observed Chris Stokel-Walker of business magazine Fast Company.
AI’s flaws will only be further amplified in a sector like agriculture, where the institutional knowledge and culture is so specialized that it’s difficult to pull the wool over a reader’s eyes. Ours is not an industry where you can fake it, so perhaps our biggest duty as farm and ranch communicators: Don’t let AI steer conversations it has not earned the right to steer. It won’t be long before opponents of modern agriculture will be weaponizing AI writing against food producers.
When an article about the agricultural sector feels superficial, redundant, or simply wrong, it’s OK to flag it as suspicious. A chatbot doesn’t care that the information its delivering may be incorrect or that it may not be capturing the full context of a situation.
Ryan Tipps is the founder and managing editor of AGDAILY. The Virginia Tech graduate has covered farming since 2011, and his writing has been honored by state- and national-level agricultural organizations.